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Is Washington the solution... or a sitcom?

Published in Blog on October 19, 2023 by Jakob Fay

“Last week, I turned on the news to see Nancy Mace — a Republican congresswoman from South Carolina — walking through the hallways of the House of Representatives with a scarlet A emblazoned on her shirt,” wrote conservative historian Jay Cost on Wednesday. “I immediately pondered two questions. First, has she actually read Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter? If she had, I’m not sure that’s the letter she would have chosen. And second, what was her point?”

“In fact, the political spectacle of this whole era may be summarized by that question: What is all of this supposed to accomplish? What did the Founding Fathers intend for us to do with these institutions of government they built for us? Mace, of course, is a ridiculous figure — too absurd even to be parodied. But the fact that her actions fall within today’s realm of acceptable behavior for an elected representative says something about the pointlessness of all our politicking.”

Cost’s commentary is needed in these times. There is just one problem: very few people want to hear what he has to say.

Rather than blame Washington for everything, however, it’s time for us to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Let’s be honest: we enjoy political spectacle. We complain about our elected officials not accomplishing anything but then cheer our favorite political actors’ useless stunts and attention-grabbing feats. We reward the noisiest, most bombastic, most in-your-face disruptors—often, regardless of whether they actually get anything done or not.

The reason we do this is obvious: in an era of social media-driven news, the easiest way to clinch the media spotlight is not to write a white paper, espouse substance, or engage in slow, boring, methodical statesmanship. No, the easiest way to ensure that every newspaper and TV station in America is talking about you is to do something shocking (say, wear a scarlet “A” or shorts and a hoodie) or just be generally obnoxious. Do this, and the media will hate you, your base will love you, and everyone will know your name. You may have little else to boast of, but at least you will have fame.

Voters ought to remember, though, that provocation does not always equal progress; fame is not always well merited. A politician may dupe you for years into believing he is advancing your values when all he is actually doing is going viral. Of course, it is possible to do both. But I’d much rather have a quiet, behind-the-scenes strategist or statesman who knows how to do the job than someone who merely offers us, as Jay Cost put it, “the sheer pleasure of the cathartic release” but is totally devoid of substance.

Another author put it this way: “Instead of real life, with all its complexity and consequences, [politicians] act like they’re in a live-action role-play, a real-life video game where extremism and recalcitrance are just as virtuous as reasonableness and compromise — but they grab more attention.”

This is not an indictment of any one party. Rather, it is an indictment of a system in which political pageantry is the norm. It also is an indictment of us—the American people. If we routinely applaud antics over action and require feel-good rhetoric over hard-fought remedies, we have no right to gripe when that is exactly what we get. As President James Garfield said, “the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.”

That is why I, as someone who desires real political reform, support Convention of States. At this point, Congress is a sitcom with new episodes dropping every day. The whole nation is watching not because we look to politicians for answers but because we enjoy the spectacle. The more turbulent, the more dramatic, the better—even if the whole country goes to hell in a handbasket in the process.

Convention of States intends to turn the TV off—to redirect our attention to the fights that matter most. It’s our reminder that national politics was never meant to be so all-consuming, that the most important issues are closer to home, and that intelligence, bravery, and purity should be required of every political body.

Rather than amuse ourselves to death with the D.C. tabloid, or scream all day at the “bad guys” on “X,” you and I have the power to actually make a difference. It may not always be the most flashy work. It certainly won’t land us a place on X’s trending list. But at least we’ll actually be making a difference. That’s more than most in Congress can boast of.

“The Circus Side Show continues in DC,” declared Dave Schnieder, a longtime Convention of States regional director. “We need to bring the focus away from who will be the Circus Ring Leader. As we all know, the solutions will never come from within the… tent to fix this clown show.”

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Almost everyone knows that our federal government is on a dangerous course. The unsustainable debt combined with crushing regulations on states and businesses is a recipe for disaster.

What is less known is that the Founders gave state legislatures the power to act as a final check on abuses of power by Washington, DC. Article V of the U.S. Constitution authorizes the state legislatures to call a convention to proposing needed amendments to the Constitution. This process does not require the consent of the federal government in Washington DC.

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